Drugs

What It's Like to Own and Run a Flourishing Marijuana Dispensary

Northern California owner: It's "quite different from the view from the outside looking in."

Photo Credit: Flickr (cc)

The view I have from behind the counter of my Medical Marijuana (MMJ) dispensary—the Sonoma Patient Group in Santa Rosa, California--is quite different from the view from the outside looking in. Many law enforcement types, city and county elders, and much of the general public have a very pre-conceived notion of what it is we do, how we do it and who we do it for.

If you are not privy to what actually happens in a dispensary, you might be inclined to believe what you read and hear from those that do not visit them, use MMJ at all or have their own agenda (i.e., draconian drug laws and incarceration quotas). You may hear talk of how the MMJ laws are just a front so that people can smoke their weed, or that the movement is a distraction or just a way to full legalization of recreational marijuana. You might believe it when you are told that only young healthy people under 25 visit the dispensaries or that we are a danger to your kids.

The truth of the matter is that MMJ works for most people that try it on some level or another depending on what you use it for, how you use it and how often you use it, keeping in mind that we are all different. What works for you might be different than what works for me. Most people that use MMJ are legitimate patients who want the medical benefits.

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Just because one side effect can be a happy feeling of euphoria and giddiness (the high) should not be seen as a negative. If you do not want to get high then there are MMJ strains that have low THC (the active ingredient that gets you high) and high CBD (cannabidiol which counteracts THC so that you do not get high, but can get some of the benefits of using MMJ).

Medical Marijuana Myths and Misconceptions

The notion that we only serve or cater to young adults and late teens is simply not true. This lie is generally perpetuated by law enforcement types who sit outside of the dispensaries from across the street looking through binoculars saying 'That guy looks healthy to me' or 'I don't see anything wrong with him".

Ask yourself 'What does a person with leukemia, AIDS, breast cancer, lupus or any other illness look like?' How can a police officer with no medical training diagnose you from across the street using binoculars when my doctor insists that he has to see me to do a physical with blood pressure checks, listening to my lungs and so on?

Still, let's not fall for the line only dying patients should have access to MMJ. If it can help you with anything at all, big or small, you should be able to make that choice. if you want to use it for a headache instead of aspirin (which kills thousands of people every year) then you should be able to do so.

Nobody I know that operates or works at a dispensary wants to sell weed to your kids. The permit fees and the expenses you have going legit  make it much too risky to even consider doing something this stupid. Not that some idiot out there won't try to sell or cater to kids because it happens in many industries like the alcohol industry but it is not the norm and will not be as long as we have strong regulation and oversight.

Kids are not even allowed in dispensaries without their parent and a recommendation or approval from their doctor. California law allows minors to use MMJ,  but some dispensaries don't let them for fear of being targeted by local cops or the DEA. Some states do not allow minors to use MMJ under their state laws. It's okay to give them other powerful prescription drugs, but heaven forbid we let them use nature's medicine!

Another misconception is that people go into a dispensary and sit and smoke out. Not true. Most state and local regulations do not allow on-site consumption of any kind, let alone smoking. Even when the regs do allow it, many times dispensary operators won't, just because they don't want to.

You might also be surprised to find that we do not just sell the buds, or flower, of the plant. We sell concentrates (kief, hashish, and hash oil, which comes in many different forms now days with names like wax, shatter swirl or dabs) as well as topical creams and salves. We also sell many forms of edible MMJ such as cookies, brownies, ice cream, peppermint patties, candy bars, cotton candy, caramels, gummy bears, capsules, tincture, popcorn, pretzels, peanuts and so much more. It's definitely not your dad's weed anymore.

Who Are the Patients?

Most of the patients that visit Sonoma Patient Group are not late teens or young adults. The average age of our patients is about 45. Many are much older. Many of the people that become patients and visit the dispensaries have used marijuana before, mostly for recreational purposes, and are now turning to it for medical reasons. This is true for all age groups, but a little more for the older crowd.

Many patients between 40 and 55 have at least tried it when they were younger. They are coming back to it now after raising their kids or just living life. Some continued to smoke weed and others quit when they had kids but are returning now as they get older and start to feel their age. This is the age range that I find myself in so I can relate to them on a level that others may not.

The most surprising and fastest growing segment of this business is the AARP crowd. Older patients (say 60 and up) are coming in, many times, like a deer caught in the headlights. These are people who for the most part did not smoke when they were younger, or if they did, have not for many decades.

These folks grew up in a different generation believing the Reefer Madness. Now that these people are older and increasingly more health conscious, they are looking for better alternative ways of treating their illness. These are the people that often times have the most questions and trepidation about using MMJ, so my staff and I take special care to educate them and to make sure that they get all the information and attention that they need. This ensures a happy and hopefully returning customer.

Medical Marijuana, Recreational Marijuana, and the Future

As far as legalization of recreational weed, that's not what medical marijuana is all about. It is true that it has worked out that way by default but this is because many states see it as a necessary first step in learning how they can regulate a recreational model. I think it is a stretch to think a state would go straight to full legalization without first going medical, although anything is possible and we may see it happen soon.

Colorado was the first state to pass recreational marijuana and it went so far as to mandate that only people with medical marijuana dispensaries could apply for recreational permits. After the first six month,s others were then allowed to apply.

Many states and municipalities are currently looking at different marijuana legislation, both medical and recreational, including some of our southern states like Texas and Alabama. Watch carefully because marijuana is coming to your state very soon in one form or another, recreational, or medical or both.

As a dispensary owner I welcome and support recreational marijuana, as do many of my colleagues, but that is not the case for all dispensary operators. Lacking the visionto see how it will benefit them, any see it as a threat to their business.

Prior to Colorado passing recreational marijuana, people would often ask me what I thought of it if it came to California and if I thought it would hurt my business. My answer then and now is that it will increase my business because the tax on recreational marijuana would be so high in some places that it would drive more people to medical marijuana stores because they will save money. This is exactly what has happened in Colorado. The taxes in some area are so high that many users who thought they would let their doctor recommendations expire have renewed them and many more people have gone medical. The medical sales in Colorado have increased dramatically since legalization and still outweigh recreational sales.

Another difference between medical and recreational is the amount you may have on you for use. Medical marijuana users are generally allowed to grow and have more cannabis than recreational users.

The taxation on recreational marijuana is the only real concern I have about legalization. Let's not tax it so much that we continue to fuel and drive the black market.

In 2015 and 2016 we are going to be making much more headway on this issue. The next election will spotlight this issue as well with many candidates that have not come forward in the past speaking out in favor of marijuana and or medical marijuana.